Distant Atmosphere

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Monthly Archives: October 2010

Hard Science Fiction

Hard Science Fiction

Distant Atmosphere will be a hard science fiction setting.   While I enjoy soft science fiction, in the end Star Wars and Star Trek are just fantasy with technological trappings.

Why is that bad?  It’s not bad.   Sometimes I just want my fiction to have a possibility of actually happening.  Also, I’ve found that working within the bounds of known science, or any self imposed limit, spurs creativity in unexpected ways.  For instance, if I’m thinking of having a large space habitat, well then how did it get there?  How was it built?  Where did the materials come from?  Who designed it and why?  These questions start me on fascinating roads of research that leads me to answers – and many times those answers create even more questions.

One of the things that has bothered me in recent years is the dumbing-down of science fiction for mass consumption.  Actually, that trend has probably always been there – witness the pulp magazines of the 20s and serials of the 30s.  I remember excellent authors like Clarke and Niven who worked hard to create stories that extrapolated the known science of the day and come up with amazing ideas, like satellites and ringworlds.

Perhaps I am nostalgic for a world that never existed and the great science fiction literature of the last century was a tiny niche that only I and a few other people really noticed.  And perhaps it is still going on, just out of my sight.  But I would like to add to it somehow.

Back in the 1920’s, Amazing Stories founder Hugo Gernsback tried to publish stories that exposed readers to real science and excite them about the possibilities.  Many kids love science fiction and gleefully memorize every planet presented in the Star Wars universe, and can describe exactly how the starship Enterprise generates it’s warp field.  Why can’t we make hard science fiction like that?  Why can’t a hard fiction setting contain epic heroes and titanic struggles that nudge children – and adults – to understand scientific principles.

The Encyclopedia Brown stories – if anyone remembers those – were short stories in which the main character, a child detective, would solve mysteries.  The reader could solve them too, with a bit of knowledge and logic.  Admittedly the logic or science was just flat wrong in some of them – but they always got my mind thinking as a child.  That toddler walking barefoot on the roof of a car indicates that the car hadn’t been driven recently – showing us that the father had been lying about just having arrived in the car.  And so on.

So, I’ll try to stick with hard science fiction for this exercise.  This should be fun, and hopefully others may think so too.




I’ve always enjoyed creating imaginary worlds.  Originally they were a means to an end; the steps I’d go through to create a setting for a story, book, or a role-playing game.  As I progressed, I realized that most of the time, creating the setting was far more fun than writing a book that takes place in that setting.

The idea of this blog is to create such a setting.  I’ve been thinking about it for a week now, so the ideas are fresh and fun, so and I’d like to get my ideas down somewhere.  Displaying my ideas in public doesn’t sound frightening, and perhaps if someone sees this, it may spur their own creative juices.  I have an idea to take the products from this blog and build a setting book or campaign book or perhaps even write some stories, but that is really only secondary to actually siting down and using my imagination to flesh out some fantastic place.

The title refers to a line in the song “Roundabout” by the group Yes:

I will remember you
Your silhouette will charge the view
Of distant atmosphere

I still have no idea what that means, but it sounds cool, and the phrase ‘distant atmosphere’ always stuck with me as a euphamism for an alien world.

Oh, BTW, there is a little ditty about worldbuilding over on Wikipedia.  Interesting, as I would think that much worldbuilding (or at least documentation of it) goes on in wikis nowadays.